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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Twelve boxes of gravel and plastic fossils : creating a Geology 12 programme in a new school Williams, Erica Toni


This thesis is a record of two research strands that have been intertwined during the development over a four year period of a classroom curriculum for an elective Geology 12 course in a new school. It discusses traditional belief systems identified as common to the practice of senior science and how one teacher wanted to challenge those beliefs to produce a working curriculum that would focus on long term learning within the framework of an externally prescribed curriculum and a provincially mandated external final exam that counted for 40% of the students mark. The teacher, working on her own in a portable for the first two years was in the unenviable position of being supplied with textbooks with a foreign focus and with supplies that as the title suggests were of little use over the long term. By Christmas of the first year a number of major problems had been identified, these problems falling into two major categories - developing strategies for long term learning that, within the operational constraints of grade 12, would enable the students to take far more responsibility for their own learning, and second, developing a science research programme for acquiring the resources, principally through field work, that were identified as being necessary for the programme. The major concerns within these two problem areas were identified and a four year timeline was developed for implementation. On the pedagogical side, after examining some of the literature on learning, particularly that around the area of cooperative learning that has had a substantial focus in recent years in a number of local school districts, reflecting on what worked for me in terms of my practice over 27 years of science teaching, I chose to focus on the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL), out of Monash University, Australia as my working framework for learning. The process of developing this classroom curriculum was framed as a qualitative individual action research project over time as, within my professional life, there were no other teachers involved with the geology programme within the school, and at the same time being in a portable isolated me from my peers-l had no choice but to be self contained and self reliant. The pedagogical side of the process saw the evolvement of a programme that differed significantly in many ways from traditional senior science teaching. This is not to say that many teachers are not already reflecting on and trying to improve practice but for most of them it is through quiet reflection, discourse and evolution much as it had been for me until this time. For me this was the first time in my career that I was able to develop a programme from the very beginning. The thesis details the development of a multi-level learning strategy with an underlying theme being the development of more metacognitive students. The programme entails the identification of prior learning, reflective and collaborative practice, multiple processings of content and skills, peer assessment, and semi-formal reflective assessment. For many students, particularly during my first two years, most of these strategies were completely foreign to their cultural expectations of the teacher's role as dispenser of information to be regurgitated back through formal assessment. During the last two years these challenges to student thinking have been far less dramatic as I am now a known quantity in the school and the students taking my course expect to be working at becoming more independent long term learners. The programme is also built on the premise that for geology, relevant hands-on activities are an integral part of the learning process, and this other research strand is also explored and described. This is the story of the two research strands by which a semi-independent multi-level learning environment has been developed and implemented with a high degree of hands-on activities. Although a formal assessment of the programme is almost impossible to do within the constraints of my working environment, the personal feedback that I receive from the students, parents and colleagues indicates that it has been successful.

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